Karl Rove, President Bush’s formertop political strategistand deputy chief of staff, believes that this baggage will prevent Senator Clinton, who is leading in many national polls, from being elected president. Rove may ultimately prove to be right. But don’t tell that to New Jersey Democrats.Polls show that most will vote for Clinton in the state’s presidential primary on February 5, 2008. And, even withall important state legislative races being contested this November here, it wouldnot be a surprise if New Jerseyans are morefocused these dayson who will be their next president, not who will betheir next state senator and assemblypersons.
True, residents here are hardly contentwith thejob the Democratic-controlled state legislature, or Governor Jon Corzine, are doing. They are upset about high property taxes, political corruption, and a long list of other state and local issues. However, given the collapsed presidential primary election schedule, presidential hopefuls in both parties have been dominating the news talking about nationalproblems like the slow progress in Iraq, thevolatile economy, the high cost of health insurance and housing,the failure to control illegal immigration, and the need for infrastructure repairs and improvements.
These problems are associated with President Bush, his Administration and the national Republican Party, all of whom, alas,have hadtheir ownethical shortcomings, bouts of hubris, andpolicy failures.Toss inthe President’s views on a woman’s right to choose, stem cell research, and gay rights, and it is little wonder that Bush is so unpopular here or that many New Jerseyans believe they are ignored or victimized by Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C.
Don’t be surprised if this iswhat Senator Clinton talks aboutin Atlantic City on Friday.Such a speech would serve her well and the state’s Democrats, who are looking to hold on to or increase their majorities in the legislature. Even with a largefund-raising advantage and a first-rate get-out-the-vote operation, New Jersey’s Democrats cannot simply coast to victory this November.
After all, the Corzine Administration and the legislature have not exactly delivered on their promise of property tax reform. They still must deal with state government’s major financial problems, especially its large debt and obligations to the public worker pension and health care systems. These challenges have prevented Governor Corzine and his fellow Democrats in the legislature from addressing policy goals important to several key constituent groups. In addition, the Governor’s idea for improving the state’s finances – asset monetization – is unpopular among citizens and legislators alike.
This is why Senator Clinton can do Democrats herea big favor by putting state government’s problems in a national context. And a context, shewould no doubt argue, that has been created by President Bush and his fellow Republicans when they controlled Congress.If New Jersey has budget woes, it is in part because the national government has not fully-funded the No Child Left Behindact. Nor has Washington provided New Jersey – a port and gateway state – with anywhere near enough money for homeland security. The same can be said for transportation aid. The state’s aging infrastructure, so essential for commuter and commercial traffic in the most populated part of the nation, is in need of repair and expansion, and Uncle Sam should provide more help.
Yes, New Jersey Democrats like U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg and Governor Corzine havemade this argument in recent years. And, these daysseveral Republicans are complaining that Democratic legislative candidates are spending too much time repeating it andattacking President Bush rather than discussing state and local policy issues. That’s an understandable andfair criticism.However, given her political experience and ambition, Senator Clinton can and should make the “Bush and the national Republicans hurt New Jersey” argument.
After all, as a United States Senator from a neighboring state, Clinton does understand the needs of the northeastern region and how these have not been well served in the Bush years. Or, for that matter, in the Clinton-Gore years! As a presidential hopeful who is counting on support from states like New Jersey in the primary andthe general election, it is appropriate for her to demonstrate that she understands our problems and how the resources of the national government can be used to deal with them.
All of this would seem to put Republicans on the spot, not just presidential contenders but those running for state legislative office this fall. GOP presidential candidates should and will be asked what eachplanstodo to help New Jersey if they were electedto succeed Bush.With the exception of Rudy Giuliani, who does support more homeland security, transportation, education and environmental aid for this region (do southern and western Republicans know that?) and making the President’stax cuts permanent, it’s not clear that any Republican candidate has given the Garden State much thought.
Can GOP legislative candidates here deny that New Jersey can benefit from more support for Washington, D.C.? Can they support a presidential candidate who will not commit to helping the state? Thesemay not the most important questions in this fall’s legislative campaigns. Butthey arerelevant ones that candidates would be wise not to ignore lest they look like apologistsfor fellow partisanswho may wantcitizens to vote for them but do not plan to take their concerns seriously.
David P. Rebovich, Ph.D., is Managing Director of the Rider University Institute for New Jersey Politics (www.rider.edu/institute). He also writes a regular column, “On Politics,” for NEW JERSEY LAWYER and is on the editorial advisory board of CAMPAIGNS AND ELECTIONS Magazine.